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Transcending barriers: Alarmel Valli on the language of dance

For me, to dance is a means of communication between soul and soul, to express what is too deep, too fine for words,” says dancer Alarmel Valli, quoting another legendary dancer Ruth St. Denis.

Written by Poojapillai | Mumbai |
October 2, 2008 4:11:58 am

For me, to dance is a means of communication between soul and soul, to express what is too deep, too fine for words,” says dancer Alarmel Valli, quoting another legendary dancer Ruth St. Denis. One of the most well-known exponents of Bharatanatyam in the country, Valli will be performing at the NCPA, Mumbai on Thursday to mark the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti. Her piece, titled The Forgotten Seed is an attempt to remember a fractured unity ¿ between the sensual and the sacred, the natural and the divine, the prosaic and the poetic. “It is a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi’s commitment to a heritage of harmony,” she explains.

Valli worked on the concept and script of The Forgotten Seed with poet Arundhati Subramaniam. “I have always had the greatest admiration for Arundhathi Subramaniam, as a poet and writer,” says Valli, adding, “ But I also respect her as a rasika of rare sensitivity and clarity of vision, whose intuitive knowledge and understanding of the finer nuances and aesthetics of classical dance make her an ideal person for me to work with.”

The Forgotten Seed draws from an eclectic range of sources, including the Rig Veda, the Kamba Ramayana as well as the akam and puram tradition of Sangam poetry. Valli believes that this ability to fuse with other art forms ¿ modern or classical, Indian or foreign ¿ is intrinsic to Indian classical dance. She says, “To be a true liberal is to be able to appreciate, or at least accept the entire gamut of artistic expression, whether modern or traditional. In this context, any work of fusion that brings together classical dance with other art forms, like modern music, installation art, foreign dance forms, or film, has validity — provided it also brings true talent, creativity integrity and passion to the production.”

Valli believes that classical dances are languages where every step is an alphabet and every movement a word. She explains, “In all the years that I have performed, in diverse forums in India and abroad, whether in colleges or museums, villages or temples, to audiences spanning a vast spectrum of cultures, tastes and experiences, I have never ceased to marvel at the unfailing power of our classical dance to transcend cultural and linguistic barriers and to touch people at the most intense level.”

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Valli who is the founder of Dipashikha, a centre for fine arts is also a guru to several students on Bharatnatyam. So does she find teaching a natural part of dancing? says, “When dancers teach, there is always the danger that the student, often unconsciously, along with the vocabulary and grammar of dance, also absorbs the teacher’s mannerisms and personal style, becoming in the process, a clone or shadow of the guru.” However she does enjoy her role as a guru. “I would consider myself fortunate if I could help my students understand some of the complex layers and myriad dimensions of Bharatanatyam and to help them to see it as a rich, dynamic and continuously evolving dance form.”

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